How Badminton Works

Badminton Rules

Much of a player's badminton success centers on the ability to hit a 2.5-inch (6.4-centimeter) birdie weighing less than a quarter of an ounce. This birdie, also known as a shuttle or shuttlecock, features a semicircle-shaped base made of cork. Traditionally, this cork base is flanked with 16 glued and overlapping goose feathers. Over time, however, the feathers become fragile and break; serious amateurs and professionals may go through more than one shuttle during a match [source: NBC Olympics].

The cone-shaped shuttles used by most backyard players substitute a plastic skirt for real feathers. Whatever the material, the shuttle is an aerodynamic wonder. No matter which part of the shuttle is hit, it will always turn so the cork end travels through the air first.

Whether a player can win a game, however, largely relies on the ability to bat this cork-laden shuttle over the net. Badminton games are won when a player or team of two players reaches 21 points, a relatively new benchmark set by the Badminton World Federation and one used at the 2012 Olympic games. In the past, badminton games were scored to 7, 11 or 15 points. The games are played in best-out-of-three matches [source: Badminton World Federation].

Before you take a swing at a shuttle, it can be helpful to know some of badminton's common terms.

  • Serve. To begin the game, a player uses a racket to hit the shuttle using an underhand and upward motion. The shuttle must be hit with the racket before the swing goes above a player's waist. A serve also is used to resume the game after a point is scored.
  • Rally. A rally occurs when the shuttle is hit back and forth by players on opposing sides of the net. A rally continues until the shuttle drops or goes out of bounds. Each player may hit a shuttle only once before it goes over the net.

Badminton courts measure 20 feet by 44 feet (6.1 meters by 13.4 meters), and the many lines that mark the playing surface sometimes perplex novice players. The largest court outline is used when playing doubles; an outline 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) inside of the largest outline is used when playing singles. Of course, many backyard matches are played without a clearly marked court at all.